Mumford & Sons at the Molson Amphitheatre: concert review

Mumford & Sons

When was the last time you attended a big-venue concert where the drum kit was almost an afterthought?

By: Nick Krewen Music, Published on Tue Aug 27 2013


Mumford & Sons
At the Molson Amphitheatre, Aug. 26
3 stars

When was the last time you attended a big-venue concert where the drum kit was almost an afterthought?

If you’re a Mumford & Sons fan, the answer was Monday night at the Molson Amphitheatre, where most of the rhythm came courtesy of lead singer, guitarist and sometime drummer Marcus Mumford and the big bass drum sitting in front of his right leg.

Whenever the band’s unique, harmony-filled folk music needed a little propellant — which it often did throughout a just-short-of-two-hour, 19-song set — then Mumford would transition into Stompin’ Tom mode and the bass drum would boom away as he furiously, and simultaneously, strummed his guitar.

It was a curious sight, but then again, the whole foursome is something of a musical anomaly, even when it comes to instrumentation: Winston Marshall plucked the banjo as often as he grabbed his electronic resonator guitar, and Ted Dwane, fully recovered from his June surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain, played the tall acoustic string bass as often as the more common electric.

Keyboardist Ben Lovett occasionally subs in an accordion, and then the quartet was supplemented by a three-man horn section and a two-man string section that kept the lineup gelatinous all night long, disappearing and reappearing as a song’s performance warranted.

And more often than not, that song required a wide range of dynamics, starting off solemn, quiet and slow, as did the show opener “Lover’s Eyes” from Babel, or exploding into a frisky bluegrass-inspired free-for-all, as did the follow-up, Sigh No More’s “Little Lion Man.” It remained quite the challenge in a shed that holds 16,000 giddy fans for the Mumford bunch to get them to remain silent, and it was one they didn’t always win.

Nor was the show’s flow always consistent. Broken up by unhurried gaps between songs, as the musicians tuned their instruments or decided what the next number of their two-album catalogue was going to be trotted out, Mumford and his “sons” were also loose enough that they didn’t always land on the same cues, but disciplined enough that songs like “Lovers of Light” and “Thistle & Weeds” didn’t suffer from the lack of cohesion.

Again, dynamics played the most important role, although the audience reacted with unabashed revelry whenever the quartet blasted off into full rollick, as they did during the crowd favourite “I Will Wait.”

Finally, at about the 70-minute mark — and perhaps helped by a turn or two at the drum kit, using mallets and brushes to impel “Hopeless Wanderer” — leader Marcus Mumford finally seemed to relax.

This moment was even more pronounced by something you’d expect any English band riding the crest of folk revival popularity and writing songs about internal angst would do: perform Australian rock gods AC/DC’s classic “You Shook Me (All Night Long).”

In fact, Mumford pulled a guy out of the crowd — I think his name was “G.T.” — to sing the song while he pounded it out on the drums, and the young man acquitted himself admirably, staying on tune and even offering a couple of “moves like Jagger” as he entertained the crowd.

Then it was back to the final number of the evening, “The Cave,” an exhilarating climax to a satisfying show, and reassurance that specialized acoustic music can still find a home with a mainstream success — if it’s the right music.

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